Where project managers used to be regularly blamed for schedule delays and cost overruns, in organizations that have gone through the growing pains of instituting project management practices, the realization has dawned that in most cases, the fault for such issues rarely lies with just one person.
Sufficient data has been gathered to indicate that blockers such as Teflon sponsorship or unpredictable resource availability are as much to blame for project failure as ineffective stakeholder management or poor communications. It is also less common to see project managers falling (or being pushed!) onto their swords when project constraints are not met; in many instance such variances get redacted through baseline revisions.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said when there are organization change management issues. While I’m certain there are still a few project managers who feel their jurisdiction ends at the triple constraint, most have understood the need to facilitate achieving the expected benefits from their projects.
So when is it fair to blame a project manager for poor implementation of their project’s deliverables?
- If they didn’t perform thorough stakeholder analysis during initiation as well as at regular intervals
- If they didn’t leverage available change management expertise
- If they turned a blind eye and deaf ear to factors that could impact value achievement
- If they didn’t insist on a communication strategy and progressive information sharing campaign with affected stakeholder groups
- If they didn’t engage influencers from key stakeholder groups throughout the project life cycle
- If organization change management deliverables were not built into the project’s scope definition and work breakdown structure
Assuming the project manager had done all of the above, what are invalid reasons to blame them if the operation succeeded but the patient died?
- A lack of timely resource availability or commitment to change management activities
- Directives to the project manager to not engage certain stakeholder communities
- Ignorance by sponsors to change management risks raised by the project team
- A change that is too bitter a pill to swallow in spite of how much it has been sugar coated
Recognizing that change management immaturity is common, effective communication, risk management as well as understanding the post-project impacts of decisions are good defenses for a project manager to reduce the likelihood of their becoming a scapegoat.